Sunday November 6, 2016
I know you’re paying attention and have clearly noticed that this is the first Sunday of the month so a gig in The Marquis is due. But Dan’s had to go away on some private stuff so we reschedule for next week.
Later on I make it to The Blues Kitchen where a load of people ask me where I’ve been. At least two say they thought I must have gone off to the Middle East already and just not told anyone. Bloody hell. I’ve only missed two Sundays.
During all the pre jam talk, Freddie asks if I could make myself available to do some recording with him sometime. Yeah. I could do that. I don’t talk money and don’t expect any. He wants me to help him out with some recording, I can do that. And another jam regular who I see all over the place asks if I could join his band. Sorry. Can’t do that. Well, would I mind jamming with them and maybe helping them out with finding venues until they get sorted for a bass player? He has no idea when they’ll be up and running or indeed when they’ll even be rehearsing. So yeah. Sure. I put myself down for that too on the proviso that anything I do with The Insiders, pre-arranged or not, comes first. He’s cool with that.
Monday November 7
There’s a venue in Walthamstowe. I’ll call it The Bell. And there’s a person in charge of their bookings. I’ll call her Bella. Both real things by the way. Bella was talking ages ago about getting us in there. In the few times I’ve called she’s been in and we’ve had a chat. The past week or so I’ve been trying and she’s never been there. I get one of the bosses today. Phoenix. He very helpfully informs me that Bella’s about to leave and that they won’t be doing live music there anymore. This sets me right off. I’m really fed up of stuff like this and go off on what I hope is an eloquent but insistent rant about how she’s been leading me on for ages and generally just wasting time. He listens and agrees with it all and says he’ll see what he can do. But really, what can he do?
This is followed by a call to Molly at The Kings Head in Angel where we did a trial gig a little while ago. She says she’s not booking until January or February now so I should call in the new year. Really? Really? I tell her we’re hoping to be heading off to the Middle East about then although who really knows? But yes, we leave it that I’ll call her in the new year. Balls. But really, I’m not as bothered about that as I might have been a few months ago. Maybe I should get back on the horse but I’ve really not been pushing this as much since we got that next little adventure sorted. First, there was the possibility and real offer of Dan going off in October then I was waiting to see if I was going to get the call to go in November so it really did go all up in the air. And having taken my foot off the gas and put that particular ball down I’m right out of the rhythm of it and, for me, there’s a bit of a feeling of treading water at the moment. There you go. Three phrases for you for the price of one. It’s calls like this and that last one that are making me think, ‘Why do I bother?’ I should probably stop thinking that way sooner rather than later. But then the fact that I was barely able to walk for a few weeks after the toe surgery, and ventured out very little, or never unless I had to, might have made me a tad lethargic. It certainly hasn’t helped matters on the get up and go front.
Thursday November 10
Although The Insiders is just acoustic guitar and bass with no effects, we get some pretty wild audiences. None moreso than Belushi’s in London Bridge which is where we’re headed tonight. We actually have to have a bouncer at the side of our stage looking after us. Yes, it really was a rawkus one last time. As soon as we arrive we can see we’re in for more of the same. Yes, you could say we’re really up for this one. We know what to expect this time too. We know where to put the amp – in front of us. If it’s anyway behind us we’re going to have massive feedback issues. Because at this gig we’re loud. It’s demanded. And with England playing Scotland at Wembley tomorrow, there’s a big contingent of Scottish supporters in and they are really loud, enthusiastic and generally right up for a party. As the night goes on they become our cheerleaders of sorts.
First signs are promising as soon as we arrive. Tracy, the bouncer who looked after us last time greets us with, ‘Oh fantastic, you’re here.’ Which, considering a good number of people are outside and in ear shot of this, really isn’t a bad way to be introduced. There’s more good news when we meet Jay, the manager. He says he just took over booking the music recently and had a bit of a moment today when he wasn’t sure if tonight had been looked after. Then as soon as he saw we were in the diary he knew everything would be OK. Good to know.
This is a show of three sets and we have what we used last time plus a few more songs. We’re going to mix it up a little too so unlike last time we’re confident we’ve got enough material to rock the place for the full three sets. Around two and a half hours of actual playing time. But what’s really surprising is how well received our slower songs are. I rarely have confidence that slower songs will work in this setting but Dan says we really should do them and he’s right. All around the place we see people who were up and dancing a minute ago just sit back and sing along with us before getting ready to go again. We even start our second set with Neil Young’s Harvest Moon and it seems like everyone in the place is singing it.
But here’s the really weird thing with this venue and it’s something me and Dan can’t figure out. It happened last week and it happens again tonight. We’ll be playing a big song and everyone is out on the floor in front of us; the whole place is essentially what you’d call dancefloor with a few stools and tables round the edges and at the bar. All around everyone’s jumping up and down and singing, sometimes at the tops of their voices. Then we end and the applause and cheering is negligible. It’s like, as though everyone’s forgotten there was music on a minute ago. They’re all like, ‘Oh, do you want another drink?’ Then we hit the next song and there they are, all turned on once more. Bizarre.
These huge reactions help us massively when me and Dan have a rare on stage misunderstanding and end up playing Mr Brightside in different keys. With the amp in front of us, I feel something’s not quite right but there can be the odd note clash in this song so I ignore it. As I’m singing as well I don’t notice Dan trying to get my attention to tell me to change key. However, none of this matters. Instead it’s a real Beatles moment; they’ve often said that at a lot of their earlier shows they actually played with their guitars out of tune but no-one in the crowd noticed because they were too busy screaming. We have a similar thing going here. Our crowd is too busy singing this song as loud as they can while jumping up and down to the beat. The fact that me and Dan are in completely different keys is an irrelevance although we do manage to salvage it by the second verse. Again, no-one notices, or at least no-one seems to care. Yes it’s nice and preferable to be note perfect all the time. But getting the crowd going, isn’t that what it’s all about no matter how it happens?
Friday November 11
Today, for the first time since having my minor toe surgery, walking isn’t a chore. So for the first time in five weeks I go out for a walk to go and have a walk just for the hell of it. Onto Hampstead Heath, up and down hills overlooking London. Feels really good to be doing that again. I think I’ll make that a regular thing now. First thing in the morning. Up and out. Then back and ready to get things started.
Saturday November 12
Today’s the anniversary of the first day of the Jam Jar Jam. So a year since the first gig of The Insiders. Happy anniversary to us. No gig to mark it with though. Shame.
Sunday Nov 13
With last week having been cancelled it’s Marquis Sunday. And what a Sunday. It also happens to be Remembrance Day so all the old army boys and more are out in force. All over London. So of course we get a healthy bunch in here too, along with what Tommy’s told us is a very nicely picking up Sunday crowd. Me and Dan have made a little decision for today. We’re not going to stop. At all. As much as possible, each song is going to be followed straight on with the next. We’re generally pretty good with that anyway but today we really mean it. As the notes of one song are still ringing out, if appropriate, one of us will start the next one. If we have to start the next song together the count will be made at the absolute earliest opportunity as a song finishes. We also want to mix up the setlist but haven’t made a new one. What that means is that we have to keep well on top of things during the set and often have a quick chat about what song to play next while still playing the current track. We manage this mostly by splitting the set into small sections so that we play a certain section, while maybe swapping that around a bit. Then when that section’s done, we move to the next one. It works amazingly and we absolutely blast through two hours as almost non-stop as it’s possible to be. The whole place joins in and sings along and our efforts fully receive the reaction we were hoping they would. And a bit more. The old army boys are a bit boisterous. We love boisterous. It’s why we do this. But with my style of singing right into the microphone, almost eating the thing, it gets to be a bit of an issue every now and again when someone manages to jump on the base of the mic stand. Bang in the teeth goes the microphone. A few times I have to stop playing, jump out there and politely ask them to stay away from the mic stand. Each time that’s very well received and one of them even goes and gets a few drinks in for us. Thankyou very much. At the end they tell us that they came in from the street because they heard us playing and stayed for that very same reason. Great to know. Job done.
But after two hours of playing and singing completely relentlessly, me and Dan are totally spent. I’ve not felt this tired after a gig for a long time and Dan says he’s never felt anything like this after a gig. Seems like somekind of watershed has been crossed.
Out front, Christoff, one of the managers, has been absolutely bouncing off it all afternoon. He’s always loved what we do but says this has been our best show by far. We said the show at Belushis on Thursday had been our best show, and before that we thought The Motorcycle Club in Shoreditch had been our best. But now, a day after our anniversary, we’ve done it again.
I’m going to be playing The Blues Kitchen tonight so go back on the bus with Dan and get off in Camden to go straight in. I’m early but there really was no point arriving home at 7:30 to leave almost straight away. So I take the opportunity to get something off the menu for once before the night begins. Great idea because after that last show I really need something. I quickly realise I’m tired. Like, gone. Like totally boneless.
But I get called up for the first set after the house band’s finished and on stage I’m raring to go again. I finish that set and there I am again down in the bar absolutely spent barely even talking to anyone. That gig really took a lot more out of me than I thought. Then I get called up again. And again I’m up there and totally bouncing. It’s a busy night for me as I get two more calls to go up and each time I’m fully on top of my game. I did have a two hour warm up to be fair. But I’m really all over the place as well. In a very good way. Just full on energy. Where it’s coming from I have zero idea. It’s like I’m going up onto the stage and getting plugged in, but then something plugs me back out again as soon as I come off. I don’t ever remember experiencing anything like this before. Yes I know about running on empty and adrenaline and all that. But to be up and down like that and to be able to deliver to that energy level, all feelings of tiredness evaporated, only to return worse than before as soon as the last cymbal crash is hit. That’s a new one.
Maybe it’s the energy in the room. I don’t know. But what I do know is that this is the best Blues Kitchen jam and possibly the best single jam night I’ve ever been to. The crowd is full the whole time and stretches right back into the main bar area. And they stay there. On stage, every singer and musician, new and established, is on fire. Even when I’m not on I can feel the electricity of the stage and it’s crackling. It’s just a top quality full of life show from start to finish. Then towards the end I’m hanging out at the very back of the venue which could also be the front as it’s one of the booths looking out onto Camden High Street. Sitting there is Rose, a singer who’s become something of a fixture very recently and very quickly. German rising blues star Cherie and her guitarist James, both of whom have also quickly established themselves on this particular scene, and Mikey Christer who kind of needs no introduction. Freddie McVintage is there too having just played his set with me. From the stage, Ed announces the running order to close the evening. We’ll have Cherie, then Rose, then Mikey Christer with Rose. I already know I’m going to be playing at least two of those sets as Ed’s told me. James is going to go on with Cherie and Freddie’s sorted out to come up with Mikey as a double frontman team. I look around our table and there everybody is. ‘Hey,’ I say, ‘This is the green room.’ They all look around and, laughing, agree that yes, somehow we’ve made our very own green room, all waiting to go on and finish what has been quite a spectacular night. And with all these fantastic talents yet to come, the continuing level of the night is assured. And so it is. Blues Kitchen, every single one of you. You were amazing. Good night.